HIV and AIDS

US health secretary in SA

South Africa and the US were working together to strengthen their efforts in the fight against HIV/Aids, US Health Secretary Tommy Thompson said yesterday (Thursday) on his first official visit to Africa.

South Africa and the US were working together to strengthen their efforts in the fight against HIV/Aids, US Health Secretary Tommy Thompson said yesterday (Thursday) on his first official visit to Africa.

Speaking at a media briefing in Pretoria, Thompson said he was a trustee   on the board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and this visit – which had been designated as a presidential mission – was an opportunity for him to witness what was happening in South Africa so that when countries’ applications to the Fund are considered later this month, he would be in a position to press for South Africa’s case to be favourably considered.

The US has pledged $500m to the Global Fund, which represents 25% of the total amount.  

Thompson leads a high level delegation which will be making its way on to Mozambique, Botswana and Cote d’Ivoire He would not be drawn into the controversy over providing Nevirapine to HIV positive pregnant women. With Health Minister Manto Tshabalala Msimang at his side, his comment was simply; “What I can say is that Nevirapine is used in the US and we have found it to be safe and effective”. He went on to say that as health minister of a state, Tshabalala Msimang had to make certain decisions.

“There are going to be differences, but the areas of strength are so much more than the areas of difference,” he said. “It is a process of evolution and people are changing.”

Thompson said his visit built on the Bush administration’s strong support   for the Global Fund and President George Bush’s announcement in March of a Compact for Development – a pledge to contribute $5 billion over three years to fund initiatives for developing countries to improve national economies and standards of living, including health education and health care treatment and service programmes.  

In each country, he will focus on creating health partnerships and capacity building efforts to prevent HIV/Aids, tuberculosis and malaria, such as the development of disease surveillance systems. Expanding biomedical research in these countries will also be high on the agenda.

At the briefing, Thompson announced the appointment of F.Gray Handley as the first ever health attache in Africa. Handley will be based at the US Embassy in Pretoria.  

Tshabalala Msimang told the briefing that her ministry’s objective was to link US funded programmes to the country’s overall agenda of transforming the health sector and strengthening health care services. The co-operation with Pfizer was an example of this, she said. Pfizer not only covered the provision of the drug, Diflucan, but also included training and strengthening of the health sector infrastructure.

The areas of vaccine development and immunisation came out in the discussions as one of the areas of mutual interest that needed to be explored

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